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April 9, 2008 at 9:27 AM

On hitters and missers

So, for those of you who heard the radio spot on KJR AM 950 this morning, you know that Mitch Levy and I discussed the hitters and who I’m more worried about than anyone else. For me, the top two worry candidates are Jose Vidro and Brad Wilkerson. I don’t like to pick on guys when they’re down, as Wilkerson certainly is, in spite of his two-run single last night. But for me, of all the struggling hitters, these two may be the ones with the most to prove. Wilkerson struggled the past two seasons and a lot of that was attributed to injury. He is still struggling now, even though he’s healthy. If you want people to believe the downward trend in numbers since his heyday is related to health, then you have to start showing something when health isn’t a factor. Otherwise, one would have to believe there are other factors causing the drop. And that maybe those earlier career numbers will never be replicated. It’s too early to tell. Let’s see if Wilkerson can keep putting some steady at-bats together (if he draws a walk every game, you’ll know he’s being more selective on the pitches he’s swinging at) and bunch some hits together. Otherwise, right field is too valuable a spot to be giving away this much on offense.

As for Vidro, I was one of his biggest defenders over the winter, but there is no way the team can wait three months for him to get his act together this season. He has popped two home runs already, a sign that perhaps some of the missing power is about to return. But then again, his batting average and on-base numbers are not what they were last year. And the DH spot is not a place where you can give away the farm and expect the offense to survive.
Vidro does have a lot to prove. It is only the first week, but the clock can’t be allowed to tick on indefinitely with him. There have been times the first eight games where his No. 7 spot in the order appears invisible. That can’t happen. For Vidro to be effective, he has to keep his on-base numbers high because he does not bring traditional power to the table. I will be watching this series keenly because it’s the first time these hitters have been out of the cold air. No one should lose thier job the first few weeks of April, but you’d like to see signs they are turning it around
A team can sustain slumps by a catcher on the offensive side, since that is traditionally not a big hitting position. You can’t have Kenji Johjima hitting .100 all season, of course. But who else is going to be the full-time catcher. I don’t think his bat has regressed all that dramatically from one year to the next. His recent track record suggests Johjima can be a decent hitting catcher (albeit one who hits into too many double plays, which is why he’s batting eighth). But the track records on Wilkerson and Vidro are not the same. As big a fan as I was of Vidro’s second half last year, he has to start hitting more consistently, or is unlikely to make it through the year as a lineup regular.
The other guy with a spotty recent track record is Richie Sexson and — I’ve got to say — I’ve been impressed by the at-bats he’s taken so far. Even at Safeco Field, where he was admittedly pressing too hard. Sexson is making pitchers work in every at-bat. Yes, he had that one awful strikeout in a crucial loss to the Rangers, but usually he is a lot more selective. He made the D-Rays pay both times they walked Raul Ibanez ahead of him last night and that’s all you can ask.
The reason you see Sexson glaring back and chirping at umpires every called strike is that he does have a keen eye and is trying to use it to his advantage. That was a poor call on a 1-1 pitch in the sixth inning last night, putting him behind 1-2 instead of ahead in a 2-1 hitter’s count. But he protected the plate and went out and got a pitch that he poked to right center for the game’s decisive hit.
In Baltimore the other day, Sexson lined a rocket shot to right center for a double. For a right handed hitter, when you are driving the ball to right center, you know your swing is dead-on. That’s what hitting coaches (most of them) like to teach at this level. To go center-and-away to the gaps. Some balls go over the wall. Some hit the gaps for doubles and some are caught. But hit the ball hard to right center all year and Sexson should have that bounceback season that many — including myself — are expecting.
As for Vidro and Wilkerson, I’ll be Missouri on them. Show me something.



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